Interpreting Art, Chap.7: A Sampler of Interpretations

nighthawks.jpg

Since the holiday season is upon us and it’s that time of year to “make merry,” I am hoping this month we might follow in the footsteps of the various writers, poets, artists and students in this chapter and create our own interpretations — whether serious, touching, tongue in cheek or downright outrageous– of Hopper’s painting “Nighthawks”. In Chap 7 of Barrett’s Interpreting Art we get to read an interesting short story by Ann Beattie based on Hopper’s painting “Cape Cod Evening”, a poem by Joyce Carol Oates inspired by “Nighthawks”, and an excerpt from a short book of critical prose by Mark Strand, a poet laureate of the United States, who responds to the structure of Hopper’s paintings and writes about how that structure ought to affect their meaning.

Please observe Hopper’s painting and interpret it in any way you choose in any medium, from song lyrics to poetry to critical prose. In short, anything goes. Post the results as a comment. I’m sure that in order to interpret this painting we will have to very closely observe and respond to the various elements in it. What questions does the painting raise in our minds, what clues does it offer us as glimpses into the lives of these figures. What medium will we choose as our response — a poem, a song, a short story, an art history based essay? I hope this will be an enjoyable creative exercise in which we can develop a closer relationship with Hopper’s work.

One of the most important points that Barrett makes in this chapter is that we can interpret more than paintings and in more ways than through an academic or art history lens. He illustrates this by giving examples of a variety of interpretations, including those of objects selected from popular contemporary culture such as a performance art video, cartoons, “bad words” and a Rolling Stone magazine cover. These examples illustrate that there are a variety of types of interpretation in addition to those from an art history perspective. The final sentence of the chapter summarizes Barrett’s intention in presenting the various types of interpretation and subject matter; the chapter “was written to broaden the scope of both intepreters and objects to be interpreted and to encourage us to move thoughtfuly through arts museums and spaces of daily living in a meaningful manner, that is, interpretively.”

Contributed by Jeanne Beck

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3 Responses to “Interpreting Art, Chap.7: A Sampler of Interpretations”


  1. 1 Sylvia December 12, 2007 at 10:11 am

    It’s all a matter of perception.

    When I was fifteen:
    Couple: It won’t be long before it’s time for the train and we’ll be off on a great adventure.
    Single Man: wish I was going on vacation with HER!
    Counterman: Wish I was going anywhere but here.

    When I was Twenty:
    Woman in Red: I think I’m pregnant.
    Man:I hope she doesn’t think I’m going to marry her.
    Single Man: I’m tired.
    Counterman: I hope those nice young people work it all out.

    When I was Thirty:
    Woman in Red: He just got that big bonus. There’s a sale today. I know I need shoes and a new purse.
    Man: I just got a big bonus. I’m going to stop by the car place this afternoon.
    Single Man: Wonder if I’ll get fired today.
    Counterman:Bet they won’t leave even a quarter as a tip.

    When I was Forty:
    Couple: I’m tired of him/her and this endless going to work.
    Single Man: Another day, another dollar. Wish I’d win the lottery.
    Counterman: Only half an hour before quitting time.

    When I was Fifty:
    Woman in Red: wonder if he’ll buy me some pearls?
    Man: wonder if my wife will catch us. Is that man over there Herb from down the street?
    Single Man: Wonder how he manages to keep it secret from his wife?
    Counterman: Wonder if that’s the bread truck delivery I hear? Is that a roach under the counter?

    XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXx
    This was fun—truly a contemplative piece. Thanks—hope you get some more takers.

  2. 2 June December 10, 2007 at 8:56 pm

    The Earth will Hold Us, Hold Us All

    It’s all in the horizontals, you know.
    The verticals are there to show up the resting places,
    The earth, for example, which finally holds us —
    Horizontal, I mean.

    The two men with their fedoras, she with her bared shoulders above her red dress,
    Vertical, you say, they are vertical.
    Ah, but,
    Their shoulders bend to the pull; it’s irresistible.
    The line of the earth, the horizon.
    They won’t be vertical long.
    The posts supporting the door will last longer than they.
    The unlit cigars, the Phillies, 5-cent stogies, they will last longer then these solitary souls.

    Beware, though, of that leaning counterman.
    He has notions.
    He leans, a diagonal in motion
    He’s dreaming of her, whose arm echoes his own.

    But the rest of her,
    Ah, is as vertical, and as pulled, as the two strangers.

  3. 3 Olga December 10, 2007 at 9:05 am

    Phillie’s, oh yeah.
    It was an accident the first time. I didn’t know the place, but Thanksgiving … it was raining… no custom. So I walked to see if – well, you know. Anyway, there was nothing doing and I was getting really wet. Hah! So even if a guy had seen me he wouldn’t want it. So.

    I got further than I thought. It looked light and dry, and empty. Xept for the bartender of course. That was the first time. I got to know him, and he said stick around, guys come in. And he was right.

    Funny thing. I was always there after that. Every night. Never many guys – which actually I like. Maybe talking only – and sometimes one would wait. I used to think of it like keeping company. I loved that place.

    It changed after the war. Well everything changed. A painting? No, I never knew. Yeah, that’s me – god I look good! Hah. And Gene looks, well he was just a kid you know, that blond hair… a gentle kid.

    What did you say the place is now?


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